Archive for November, 2014

Jordan fights IS online, in mosques


By Mussa Hattar – AMMAN

Jordan is cracking down on firebrand preachers and online extremism to tackle jihadists after joining US-led air strikes on the Islamic State group.

The desert kingdom shares borders with conflict-hit Iraq and Syria, and is struggling to cope with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, adding to its own problems with homegrown Islamists.

Its decision in September to join the anti-IS coalition has put Jordan in even graver danger, but authorities insist its borders are secure and have launched a sweep against jihadists that extends to the Internet.

“Jordan is waging a war against jihadist ideology and amended the anti-terrorism law… because the Internet has become the main tool for mobilizing and recruiting” militants, said analyst Hasan Abu Haniya.

Since joining the anti-IS fight, “130 IS sympathizers have been arrested, most of them members of Salafist groups,” said defense lawyer Mussa Abdalat, referring to adherents of a strict Sunni interpretation of Islam.

“Only 50 of them have been brought to trial before the state security court… while the rest are still awaiting prosecution,” Abdalat said.

But for those already convicted or facing trials at military tribunals, the charge has often been the same: spreading the ideology of a terrorist group on the Internet.

– ‘Stopping extremist ideas’ –

Wary of Salafists, authorities have also moved to bring some of the country’s nearly 6,000 mosques under tighter control by weeding out preachers who deliver fiery pro-jihadist sermons.

“We have stopped 25 imams from preaching because they violated regulations,” Ahmad Ezzat, the spokesman for the ministry of religious endowments and Islamic affairs, said.

“Some of them tried to use the minbar (pulpit) for political reasons while others used it to propagate extremist ideas,” he added.

As in many other Arab countries where fears are mounting over the growing influence of Salafists, Jordan’s ministry of Islamic affairs appoints imams, pays their salaries and monitors their sermons.

Preachers must promote moderate Islam and refrain from making political statements as well as saying anything that could undermine the sovereignty of the state or fan civil unrest.

Egypt has also moved to control mosques by laying out the theme of sermons on Fridays, as it faces growing unrest following the military’s ouster last year of the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Authorities say 1,300 Salafists are fighting in the ranks of IS, which has declared an Islamic “caliphate” on territory it has seized in Iraq and Syria.

They are estimated to number 4,000 in Jordan itself.

Hundreds are followers of Al-Qaeda’s Syria franchise, Al-Nusra Front, but many switched allegiance to back the Islamic State group when Jordan joined the US-led coalition.

– ‘War on three fronts’ –

“The war on terror is a continuous process, (fought) on three fronts,” government spokesman Mohammed Momeni said.

These were “direct military confrontation, security efforts to monitor terrorist organizations… and religious awareness” in places like schools and mosques “to eradicate extremist ideology”.

Jordan passed its first anti-terrorism law in 2006, when Al-Qaeda suicide attacks on three Amman hotels killed 60 people.

In April parliament adopted controversial measures to tighten the noose, as fears grew that the more than three-year war in Syria could spill over and threaten the kingdom’s security.

These criminalized “the use of information technology, the Internet or any means of publication… to facilitate terrorist acts or back groups that promote, support or fund terrorism”.

The amendments as terrorist acts “joining or attempting to join armed or terrorist groups, or recruiting or attempting to recruit people to join these groups” acts of terrorism.

They also outlaw “acts that would expose Jordan or Jordanians to the danger of acts of aggression, or harm the kingdom’s relations with another country.”

On Monday two Jordanians were sentenced to five years each for IS membership and two others for allegedly posting pro-jihadist comments and articles online.

Last month former Al-Qaeda mentor Issam Barqawi, also known as Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi, was arrested only four months after being released from jail.

Barqawi, who was once mentor to Iraq’s slain Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was jailed again after the state prosecutor accused him of using the Internet to promote Al-Nusra Front.

Source: Middle East Online.


Clashes in rebel-held suburb of Syrian capital

November 15, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Rare internal fighting broke out in a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus between armed residents and members of a powerful opposition faction, activists said Saturday.

The activists said the fighting broke out Friday and continued Saturday between residents and members of the Islamic Army in the suburb of Douma that is almost surrounded by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

A Syria-based activist who goes by the name of Mohammed Orabi said the clashes began when residents attacked the storage units of influential merchants who dominate the local food distribution business to protest high prices.

Orabi and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said guards at the units opened fire, seriously wounding several residents. The Observatory said one of the storage units attacked is controlled by the Justice Charitable Institution that is close to the Islamic Army.

The Islamic Army, a powerful rebel faction which tightly controls Douma, receives funding from some of these merchants, activists say, and is fighting local residents to defend them. “People are angry with the Islamic Army because they back the merchants,” Orabi said via Skype. “People want the prices to go down.”

“The fighting has been ongoing since yesterday,” he added saying that at least 11 people have been wounded. Also Saturday, the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists around the country, said the government air force has conducted 581 airstrikes since the beginning of November, killing at least 115 people including 19 children.

The group said the airstrikes were carried out by warplanes and helicopter gunships. They also wounded 370 people and caused wide damage in provinces including Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Idlib and Daraa. Activists say more than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since protests against Assad spiraled into violence in 2011.

Archaeologists dig at ancient site near Syrian war

November 15, 2014

GAZIANTEP, Turkey (AP) — Archaeology and war don’t usually mix, yet that’s been the case for years at Karkemish, an ancient city along the Turkey-Syria border where an excavation team announced its newest finds Saturday just meters (yards) from Islamic State-controlled territory.

Karkemish, dating back more than 5,000 years, is close to the Syrian city of Jarablous, which now flies the black banner of the Islamic extremist group. U.S.-led coalition aircraft flew overhead as Nicolo Marchetti, a professor of archaeology and art history of the Ancient Near East at the University of Bologna. He is the project director at Karkemish, where the Turkish military let archaeologists resume work in 2011 for the first time since its troops occupied the site about 90 years ago.

“Basically we work 20 meters away from the Islamic State-controlled areas,” Marchetti said, standing at the site, which is guarded by more than 500 Turkish soldiers, tanks and artillery. “Still, we have had no problem at all. … We work in a military area. It is very well protected.”

The project, which also includes archaeologists from Gaziantep and Istanbul universities, is doing the most extensive excavations at Karkemish in nearly a century, building on the work of British Museum teams that included T.E. Lawrence, the adventurer known as Lawrence of Arabia.

Marchetti said the plan is to open the site to tourists next spring. A concrete barrier, about four meters high, will be installed at the site. “This will be a total protection for the tourists,” he said.

The strategic city, its importance long known to scholars because of references in ancient texts, was under the sway of Hittites and other imperial rulers and independent kings. However, archaeological investigation there was halted by World War I. It was stopped again by hostilities between Turkish nationalists and French colonizers from Syria who built machine gun nests in its defensive walls. Part of the area was mined in the 1950s, and in later years, creating deadly obstacles to excavation. Demining was completed just a few years ago.

Archaeologists are completing their fourth season unearthing the secrets of Karkemish along the Euphrates. The name Karkemish means “Quay of (the god) Kamis,” a deity at the time in northern Syria. Stone monuments decorated with sculptures, hieroglyphics and more than 20 meter-high city walls attest to the influence of the town.

Among this year’s finds were sculptures in the palace of King Katuwa, who ruled the area around 900 B.C. There were five large orthostats in limestone and basalt, a dark grey to black rock, that portray row of individuals bearing gifts of gazelle. An orthostate is an upright stone or slab that forms part of a structure.

The archaeologists also found a mosaic floor in the palace of Sargon II, who reigned around 700 B.C. over Assyria, an ancient empire mostly located in Mesopotamia. And the team finished exploration of the ruins of the expedition house of Lawrence of Arabia, who worked at Karkemish between 1911 and 1914.

The team began its project in 2011 around the time that the Syrian uprising against President Bashar Assad was escalating. About one-third of the 90-hectare (222-acre) archaeological site lies inside Syria and is therefore off-limits; construction and farming in Jarablous have encroached on what was the outer edge of the ancient city. Most discoveries have been made on the Turkish side.

Riechmann reported from Istanbul.

Turkish PM criticizes opposition for its silence over Al-Assad’s crimes

Monday, 10 November 2014
Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu criticized on Sunday the Turkish opposition for its silence over Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s war crimes, Anadolu news agency reported.
Davutoğlu, who is also the head of the Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, was speaking in front a gathering of his party’s supporters in Ankara.
Criticizing Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party, Anadolu quoted the prime minister as saying that when Al-Assad killed the Syrian people using chemical weapons and Scud missiles, Kilicdaroglu remained silent.
Davutoğlu continued his verbal attack by pointing out that when the attack against Kobani happened, Kilicdaroglu suddenly said “We have to interfere,” even though he does not even know where it is located on the map. Davutoğlu described him of losing “just balance,” in his mind, what helps us to differentiate between the oppressed and oppressor.
Kilicdaroglu suggested that the Turkish parliament should issue a separate mandate for Turkish military action in Kobani. “Are we going to issue a separate mandate for each province or district? It’s such a ridiculous proposal,” Davutoğlu remarked.
The prime minister also criticized the opposition Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), whose leader Salahuddin Damirtash and most members are Kurds.
According to Davutoğlu, the BDP leader has not said a word regarding Al-Assad’s killing of Syrians over the last four years. Giving an example, he said that when the Syrian Kurds invaded the village of Al-Hasakah and reportedly caused a massacre, Damirtash did not comment because he belongs to the same ideology. However, when Kobani was attacked, suddenly he raised his voice.
The prime minister said that his party came to power in Turkey to care for all humans.
He stressed that they take a stance against the oppressor, whoever he is and whatever his faith, as well as stand beside the oppressed no matter what. “The party is entrusted to protect the human with its soul, mind and descendants,” he said.
Source: Middle East Monitor.

19-year-old fighter from Kobani buried in Turkey

November 08, 2014

SURUC, Turkey (AP) — It was an easy decision to make. Barely out of school, Perwin Mustafa Dihap wanted to follow in the footsteps of three of her older siblings and go to war. Before long, she was on the front line in the Kurdish Syrian city of Kobani, her hometown on the Turkish border besieged on three sides by extremists from the Islamic State group.

Just two months later, the 19-year-old lay dying in a hospital across the border in Turkey, wounded in an Oct. 6 mortar attack on her position in the city. The doctor told her family the young woman’s chances were slim, despite her surviving a five-hour operation. Yet Dihap still held out hope.

“We went to the hospital … and I asked her how she was doing, and she said: ‘Don’t worry about me. If I get better, I will go back to fight again,'” said her 34-year-old brother, Kemal Mustafa Dihap.

But she didn’t get better. As her condition deteriorated, doctors transferred her to two other hospitals in larger Turkish towns in an effort to save her. In the last two days, she was too weak to speak. Dihap died in the early hours of Nov. 5.

“Even though she was really young, she was really brave and strong,” her brother said, swallowing hard to keep his emotions in check as he stood outside the morgue in the Turkish border town of Suruc.

He, his mother and his siblings waited to accompany his little sister’s coffin to the nearby cemetery where many of the Kurds who die fighting in Kobani are being buried. The framed photographs they carried showed a fresh-faced young woman in uniform, a wisp of her brown hair crossing her forehead, the ghost of a smile on her lips.

Dihap, the youngest of originally 12 children, was buried alongside Emina Mahmoud, believed to be 22, during a joint funeral. Like many Kurds killed in Kobani, Mahmoud’s family had not been traced in time for the ceremony.

The two were among hundreds of women fighting in the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ. Kurdish women have fought alongside men for decades in a guerrilla war seeking an independent Kurdistan that would encompass parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

After six months of basic training, Dihap was initially assigned to the police force, said her mother, Fatma Isa Dihap. But the girl insisted she wanted to be in the thick of battle. Their town had come under an intense assault by IS fighters in mid-September, with the extremists taking over parts of the city in fierce battles with Kurdish fighters. A U.S.-led coalition is now carrying out airstrikes against IS positions in and around Kobani.

About 200,000 people have fled into neighboring Turkey, which borders the north side of Kobani. It was Dihap’s mother who took her to join up. Two of her other children were already fighters: a son in the battle for Kobani and a daughter fighting in the Syrian region of Afrin, near Aleppo.

“I took her to the comrades and told them: ‘I present my daughter to Kurdistan,'” she said. It was a sacrifice she was prepared to bear despite already having buried three of her children, explained her son Kemal. One of her sons was killed in 1996 fighting in the Kurdish guerrilla war, another was killed in a car crash and a third accidentally drowned.

“I am happy and I am proud of my daughter; she is the martyr of Kurdistan and Kobani,” said Dihap as she prepared to bury her youngest child. Cheering defiantly and ululating for her daughter outside the morgue and at the cemetery, the mother finally broke down when the coffin arrived at the gravesite.

“Perwin!” she cried, as her daughter’s shrouded body was lifted out of her wooden coffin and placed in her grave.

Mohammed Rasool in Suruc, Turkey, contributed.

Istanbul protesters furious over Israel’s Al-Aqsa raid

07 November 2014 Friday

Pro-Palestinian activists chanted slogans and raised flags following Friday prayers in Istanbul as part of nationwide protests over an Israeli security forces raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

Around 1,000 protesters gathered in the yard of Istanbul’s Fatih Mosque, condemning what they called “Zionist aggression on the holy temple.”

Israeli security forces had raided the Jerusalem mosque and fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets Wednesday following clashes with Palestinian protesters. The mosque is located on a site holy to both Jews and Muslims in the divided city.

Addressing the crowd, Turkish newspaper columnist Abdurrahman Dilipak described the Israeli forces’ actions as “violent, crazy and hazardous.”

Tension was already high in East Jerusalem due to the closure of the Al-Aqsa compound to Palestinians after an extremist rabbi, who had called for the compound to be liberated from “Islamic occupation,” was shot and wounded.

Palestinians were further outraged as Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian man who was claimed to have been been a suspect in the shooting.

Wednesday’s raid was first since 1967, when the Israeli army occupied the city.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the incursion as “barbaric.”

For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews refer to the area as the ‘Temple Mount,’ claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.

Demonstrations against the incursion also took place in many other Turkish provinces led by NGOs and activist groups in solidarity with Palestine.

Source: World Bulletin.


Erdogan terms Israeli attack on al-Aqsa ‘unforgivable’

07 November 2014 Friday

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Israel on Friday for storming the third holiest site in Islam, the al-Aqsa mosque, in Jerusalem recently.

He made the remarks during his official visit to Turkmenistan.

Erdogan termed the Israeli attack “unforgivable” and said the mosque belonged not just to the Palestinians, but the entire Muslim world.

Israeli security forces and a large number of Jewish settlers had stormed the mosque Wednesday. Eyewitnesses at the time said the security personnel shot rubber bullets at worshipers and students which left scores injured.

The violence came in the aftermath of calls made by several extremist Jewish groups to storm the mosque when Rabbi Yehuda Glick was attacked a week ago.

Al-Aqsa represents Islam’s third holiest site, while Jews refer to the same area as the Temple Mount, which they consider as the site of two ancient Jewish temples.

Source: World Bulletin.